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Rachael & Vilray bring their special sound to Caramoor, West Kortright Centre this weekend

Rachael & Vilray
Rachael & Vilray
Rachael & Vilray
Rachael & Vilray will perform two concerts in the WAMC listening area this weekend.

If it’s possible to add a couple new chapters to the Great American Songbook, Rachael & Vilray are hard at work on it.

On their self-titled debut album, Rachael and Vilray showcase their close harmonies, clever songwriting, and a different side of Rachael Price than many fans have heard in her band Lake Street Dive.

Rachael and Vilray will perform two concerts in our listening area this weekend, Saturday at Caramoor in Katonah and Sunday at West Kortright Centre in East Meredith.

How did you two start working together?

Vilray: Rachael and I met in college and we became friends. But we really didn't make music together for many years. She was a serious and dedicated musician. And I kind of drifted away from the school that we were at together and got myself a job in New York City where I'm from originally, and where I live now, where we both live now. And she kind of brought up the idea of us playing together at some point late in our friendship. We'd been friends for many years at that point. And I kind of dismissed it. I wasn't really making much music. And she was pretty dogged about it and eventually relented.

Rachael: Yeah, I really did have to sort of wear him down. I will say that the first time we ever got together to play songs was pretty awkward. There wasn't a ton of energy. And I think we were both humiliated by that experience and just decided to be friends after that. Silently. You know, we didn't we didn't talk about it. You remember that, Vilray?

Vilray: Oh, yeah, sure.

Rachael: Yeah, exactly. And I heard Vilray singing a solo set in Brooklyn and just felt like that was the time to ask again.

What was so humiliating about that first time? What were the circumstances?

Rachael: We were at Vilray’s apartment. And I think we just…we just didn't really know what to do, like what songs to do together.

Vilray: I was rusty. I just hadn't really played music in in years. And Rachael said, Well, you know, you listened to so much music and you played music once. Let's try it out. And I just wasn't ready. It was a few more years before I kind of rediscovered the bug for myself. And then we were able to find the swing.

I read, Vilray, that you had at some point a broken hand or a broken arm that kept you from playing guitar?

Vilray: Yeah, you know, I mean, what really kept me from playing guitar was sort of embarrassment that I had flamed out in music school, which come to find out is more common than I thought it was when I was 19. So that kept me from making music for a long time. And then I was starting to play music a little bit here and there, but it was actually breaking my finger, wasn't my whole hand. But I was in a cast for a month or two. And there was something about not having the option that really, you know, sort of terrified, scared me straight and got me more focused on thinking about music before I even got out of the cast. So yeah, that was kind of an inspiring moment.

Did all of your skills come back once the cast came off? Or did you have to relearn how to play it?

Vilray: Yeah, no, it wasn't such a huge physical trauma as far as the hand went. It was more just kind of getting back into the feel of making music. I studied composition and songwriting at the New England Conservatory, where Rachael and I met, and so that has always been my focus kind of writing music. Guitar is sort of a means to an end as far as that goes. So my janky guitar playing skills came right back once I started practicing.

And Rachael, why did you want to make this type of music together? What was it about Vilray and you getting together in this mode?

Rachael: I grew up singing jazz and when I went to jazz school and performed with a trio for many years singing standards, and when Lake Street Dive started taking off I sort of set that down and wasn't singing jazz anymore, and I missed it. And when I saw Vilray perform that night in Brooklyn, what I was really struck by was Vilray wasn't performing any standards, so to speak, any very familiar songs, he was performing more obscure songs from the 30s and 40s.

And one of the obstacles, I think into, like making that music and doing interpretations of it for myself, is just how many versions of those songs there are, and therefore knowing how the audience has different connections and different relationships to the songs based on the version that they grew up listening to and myself, and the pressure of wanting to sing in that style, but make it different. And really, I think what all I wanted to do was just to sing in the style of singers from the 30s, and 40s, I didn't ever really crave anything different from the experience of that. And so when I saw Vilray doing it, I realized that it could be done if you were doing songs that the audience didn't know that well. And so when we first started playing together, I think he only had one original to offer. But even that in itself was exciting, because then I was able to interpret a song that nobody had heard before. And then we were doing obscure songs, and then he just kept writing and writing and writing. And so for me, it's like, a dreamy scenario, because that's what you want as a singer is to have an ace writer writing songs for you. So I got it all in the end.

And Vilray, what is it that attracts you to that era and that particular style? I know they’re new songs, but I think your songs’ almost timelessness is part of their appeal.

Vilray: There's something about the breadth of emotion that the songs explore, they're kind of coming from, whether they're written for musicals or not, they're coming from the tradition of musicals. So you know, there's a funny scene, and there's a duet, and there's a love song. And there's a company-wide kind of light song, and there's just all these sort of traditions. And you can kind of plug in these songs, whether they're songs from a musical, or as they call them, art songs, they kind of fit the groove of a certain dramatic space. And it's kind of nice to be able to occupy, you know, deep pathos, and, and kind of melodrama and also, you know, a lot of humor, I, I've always enjoyed writing songs that were humorous, and I've always enjoyed listening to songs that were humorous, and, you know, the, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan and all these kinds of great songwriters of the rock'n'roll age, were really in touch with a lot of that humor, and I always really appreciated it. Sometimes I feel like people take themselves a little more seriously these days. And I'm not so into writing autobiographical music, I've never really excelled in that world. And it's kind of nice to occupy the space of a character and see what that character has to say.

Could you both talk about what it's like to sing these songs together? Because the vocals have to be incredibly precise. You accompany one another so nicely, but it's also, you know, pretty lyrically complicated and so on. How do you work on getting on the same page, so to speak?

Rachael: Well, I think we were lucky. Because Vilray and I have had spent both individually a lot of time listening to the tonal quality of singers from the 30s and 40s, there's a certain way that they approach a note and where it sits in your face, how it resonates. And the vibrato is a certain type of vibrato. So I think from the start, we were able to blend because we had studied how those singers sing, which isn't to say that it was perfect. When we first started, it took us it took us a little bit of time to be able to sing in tune with one another. And I think we figured out after a year or so performing that we needed to face each other and sort of look at each other for a while. And there was a period of time where we sort of intensely, I think, looked at each other's mouths while we're singing. And naturally we sort of stopped needing to do that. And we were more in tune with one another just from listening. And even now, I think when we haven't played for, you know, a few months, we started singing again and we're a little bit shaky, and we sort of figure it out again.

I noticed there have been times in your live performance where you're sharing a microphone. Is that still the plan so you can be so close?

Vilray: Yeah, it sort of depends on whether or not it's an outdoor indoor show and kind of the room. But, you know, it's a touchy thing, those ribbon microphones and an outdoor show can sometimes set it off. So it's depends more and more. But we really do love having a ribbon microphone sitting between us and self-balancing. It's a really, sort of human and organic experience.

I know this can be a touchy question. But do you have a second album coming soon?

Rachael: Yes, we do.

What can you tell us about it?

Rachael: We recorded in April. And we did it in L.A., with many incredible musicians out there in an old studio in a huge room. And we made it with same person who produced our last record. And it's coming out next year. We're very excited about it. If we could release it earlier, we would.

Do you think about specifically writing for Rachael when you're working on the songs now that you've got this history together?

Vilray: You know, it took me a little while to kind of get the confidence up to feel like I could write for Rachael, which is strange to say, since I was writing for Rachael whether or not I was writing for her voice. But yeah, more and more in the last couple of years. As opposed to sitting down and thinking about oh, how would Ella Fitzgerald sing a song or how would Fats Waller sing a song? Because that was sort of the beginning of how I would sit down and write, was kind of think about voices from that time. And I think that allowed me to get some accuracy in in what I was doing, but more and more I think about Rachael and yeah, it's a wonderful experience to think about what she would do and then to hear how she does it. There's always a million and one things that I would never have expected and she blows it out of the water. And it's wonderful to have her sing a song the first time and then it's really incredible to hear her sing the song the 100th time because, you know, she's figuring things out with each pass and I get a front seat for that. So it's a wonderful experience for me.

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A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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